an arabesque catchup

I love becoming reaquainted with old friends. The easy familiarity of being able to pick up where you left off can be truly golden and when you are able to feel instantly at ease with your old friend’s new love then so much the better.  Last night I was lucky enough to catch up with a friend from my food science student days. It had been about 5 years since I last saw Cam (where does the time go?) and I was thrilled to learn that he would be home from Paris with his lovely girl Jana over Christmas.

After initially planning on a dinner out at one of our many old Sydney haunts, I decided to ask them to dinner at my place instead. Sometimes the intimacy of your own home is a far better choice for a really good catchup than the noice and interruptions that come with the buzz of dining out.

I like to have a theme in mind when planning a menu and it took all of two seconds to decide the theme of last night’s dinner. Wanting to maximise time with my guests and taking into condsideration that Jana is a vego I opted for a mezze style Lebanese spread chosen from my latest favourite cookbook: Claudia Roden’s Arabesque (a gift from batgirl!)

Claudia has been a favourite of mine since I first had the pleasure of reading her awesome ‘A new book of Middle Eastern food’ while on holiday in Egypt, Syria, and Jourdan. From the moment I opened it, while lolling on a felukka sailing down the Nile, I was hooked. Her latest offering has the advantage of pretty pictures and I prefer the format with three different sections covering Moroccan, Turkish & Lebanese food. With Claudia as inspiration we ended up with the following menu:

wild home-cured barossa olives
wilted beet greens with preserved lemon & broad beans
salad of shaved baby fennel & radish
roast baby beets with yoghurt
bbq eggplant (aubergine) slices with pomegranate, yoghurt & tahini
turkish bread (purchased from the best turkish restaurant in sydney: the recently refurbished Eyrycies on Cleveland St Surry Hills)
choc hazelnut gelato (these days no meal is complete without gelato!)

The evening began the way any reunion should: with a bottle of sparkling wine. I chose to introduce Jana to the unique wine style that is sparkling shiraz with a gem of a wine from Mitchell in the Clare Valley.

After perusing my cookbook collection with approval, Cam picked up my copy of Arabesque by the fabulous Melbourne duo Greg & Lucy Malouf. He started telling me about this awesome book he had got himself for Christmas in Paris…. I had a feeling of what was to come so I raced into the kitchen and grabbed my copy of Claudia….. which very much amused Cam & Jana….turns out my hunch was right and they had the exact same book….great minds…

We ventured to the over laden table and shared a fine mezze repast washed down with a very interesting wine: a 2004 Tempranillo from the Hunter Valley, an antipodean example of the great Spanish variety that it the backbone of their fameous Rioja. My favourites of the night were the beet greens and the eggplant but I was thrilled when Jana said that she normally didn’t like beets but really enjoyed mine…. Changing someone’s mine as to whether they like a patricular food…all good things.

wilted beet greens with preserved lemon & broad beans
adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Roden
serves 4 as part of a mezze spread
1 bunch baby beet greens, washed and chopped in half
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
2T olive oil
1/2 preserved lemon, peel only washed and very finely sliced
1 x 400g can baby broad beans, drained and rinsed.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add garlic and briefly fry before adding the remaining ingredients. Cover with lid and cook stirring occasionally until greens are just wilted and the beans are heated through. Season with salt & pepper and serve hot, warm or cold with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

salad of shaved baby fennel & radish
serves 4 as part of a mezze selection
1/2 baby fennel
2T fennel fronds, chopped
6 small radishes
2T lemon juice
2T extra virgin olive oil
Wash and finely slice fennel and radishes using a mandoline. Combine lemon and oil and season. Toss fennel, radishes & fennel fronds in the dressing and arrange on a serving platter drizzling over dressing and topping with freshly ground pepper. Best if allowed to stand for 15mins to 2hours before serving at room temp.

roast baby beets with yoghurt
adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Roden
serves 4 as part of a mezze meal
1 bunch baby beets
2T balsamic vinegar
2T olive oil
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 clove garlic, chopped
1T tahini
2T dukkah or sesame seeds.
Remove beet tops leaving some stalks. Scrub beets and halve. Place beets on a large sheet of foil on a baking tray. Drizzle with vinegar & oil and season with s&p. Wrap foil tightly to enclose beets. Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for 45mins or until tender when cut with a knife. Cool to room temperature.
Combine yoghurt, garlic & tahini and spread on a serving plate. Arrange beetroot on top and serve scattered with dukkah or sesame seeds.

bbq eggplant (aubergine) slices with pomegranate, yoghurt & tahini
adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Roden
serves 4 as part of a mezze meal
1 large eggplant
olive oil
1.5T pomegranate molasses
1.5T red wine vinegar
300g natural yoghurt
1 small clove garlic, crushed
4T tahini
handful pinenuts or blanched almonds, toasted.

Slice eggplant lengthwise into 1cm slices. Brush with oil and bbq, covered over a low heat, turning once, for about 20mins or until eggplant is soft and golden and arrange on a serving platter. Combine vinegar and molasses and pour over hot eggplant. Allow to marinate for at least 1/2 hour. Combine yoghurt, tahini & garlic and pour over eggplant slices. Serve at room temp topped with nuts.


One Comment

  • It is sooooo hard to follow a recipe when the directions call for a “bunch” of greens or a “large” eggplant. I love it that most of your ingredients list the grams needed. Please give us some idea of what these vague amounts are???

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